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August 24, 2013

Gander is part of the US rendition express

Reuel S. Amdur

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Gander has been a way-station for CIA rendition flights secretly headed for Guantánamo and to overseas destinations. British academics from Kent and Kingston Universities have put together a detailed account of flights, identifying the specific airplanes used, their trajectories, names of companies involved (in many cases shell companies belonging to the CIA), dates of departure from Gander and return, starting points, and destinations.

The academics, led by Sam Raphael and Ruth Blakely, operate the website The Rendition Project, bringing together information from wide sources, including human rights organizations.  Consult the website for detailed information.

A number of flights are Guantánamo flights with unknown prisoners aboard.  Others are flights by CIA or in at least one case a U.S. military aircraft, from one overseas location to another, but using Gander before and after.  All in all, between 2001 and 2005 there were over 25 flights where The Rendition Project identifies the flight as either suspicious or definitely a rendition flight. 

Many if not most of the men rendered were eventually released.  Among the cases listed is that of Canada’s Maher Arar.  The other names do not have the same degree of familiarity for Canadians, but their stories are often equally wrenching.  The Rendition Project gives considerable detail about the men it can identify, among them Abou Elkassim Britel.  We will look at his case, as an example. 

Moroccan-born Britel is an Italian citizen, an electrician and a translator along with his wife of Islamic books into Italian. 

Travelling in the Middle East and Pakistan in 2002 to seek funding for his translating, he was arrested in Pakistan, jailed, and tortured for some weeks before he gave in and falsely confessed to being a terrorist.  He was questioned on several occasions by American interrogators.

On May 24 that year, he was forced onto a plane, after first having his clothes sliced off, replaced by a diaper, a torn t-shirt and shackles. 

In flight, when he tried to adjust his position because of discomfort, he was hit and kicked.  His destination was Morocco, where he was imprisoned, given meager rations, beaten, and subjected to psychological torture, including threats against his female relatives. 

Released the following year, he was rearrested when trying to return home to Italy.  Under torture, he signed a false confession and was tried on a terrorism charge in October 2003 and convicted.  His 15-year sentence was later reduced to nine years.

In January 2007, 62 Italian MP’s, 25 Italian senators, and 12 members of the EU Parliament petitioned King Mohammed VI to pardon him, but it was not till 2011 that he king did so. 

His effort to sue a subsidiary of Boeing which arranged his itinerary came to naught when the US government got the court to throw the case out on grounds of national security.  The land of the free and the home of the brave.

When Canadian French La Presse asked the Ministry of Public Safety about this use of the Gander base for rendition flights, he replied that it had found no irregularities.

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